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One of the weirdest prehistoric animals ever discovered, Opabinia had five eyes on stalks and a long, flexible trunk (proboscis) tipped with a grasping claw. This mouse-sized sea creature probably used its trunk in the same way an elephant does, picking up items of food with the tip and then passing them to its mouth.… Read More »


The common trilobite Selenopeltis lived in cool waters along the coast of Gondwana, a mighty prehistoric continent that later broke apart to form South America, Africa, and Australia. It had long, sweeping spines that give its fossils a graceful appearance, making them a favorite among fossil collectors. Selenopeltis (se-LEE-no-pel-tiss)   ■ When: 471–445 million years… Read More »


The starfish and sea urchins we see at the beach belong to an ancient group of sea-dwelling animals known as echinoderms (“ee-KYE-no derms”). Echinoderms have round or star-shaped bodies and feet like tiny suckers, but no heads or brains. Fossils reveal that echinoderms of the distant past were much like those we see today. FAMILY… Read More »

Spiders and Scorpions

Spiders and scorpions belong to an ancient family of predatory animals called chelicerates (“kell-ISS er-ates”), all of which have special mouthparts that they use either as pincers or fangs. Modern chelicerates are small, but their earliest ancestors grew to gigantic sizes and were among the top predators of their time. The biggest of these prehistoric… Read More »

Giant Millipede

Millipedes were among the first animals to walk on Earth. They took their first steps at least 428 million years ago, venturing onto land to eat the few simple, mosslike land plants that existe back then. By 350 million years ago, the plants had evolved into trees and the millipedes had become giants, too. Biggest… Read More »


Long before dinosaurs evolved, Earth was already buzzing with insects. The first insects were tiny, wingless creatures that lived on the ground about 400 million years ago. Later they evolved wings and became the world’s first flying animals. Mastering flight made them incredibly successful and they evolved into thousands of new species. Today, they make… Read More »


The delicate wings of butterflies do not fossilize easily, making butterfly fossils rare. Even so, a few amazingly well-preserved specimens have been found in very fine-grained rock or amber (fossilized tree resin). The oldest known butterflies date back to about 65 million years ago. By 30 million years ago, butterflies were common and very much… Read More »

Fossilized In Amber

Millions of years ago, these insects were trapped in a honey-colored goo: pine tree resin. Over time, the resin hardened into amber, preserving the insects so well that even the fine veins in their wings are visible. They look as if they lived yesterday, but these fossilized insects are thought to be around 38 million… Read More »


Possibly the largest insect that has ever lived, Meganeura looked like a gigantic dragonfly. Its wingspan was 2. ft (75 cm)—12 times greater than that of common dragonflies today. This monster insect used its giant wings to hunt other insects in midair. Insects and other invertebrates grew to a great size in the lush forests… Read More »


Ammonite fossils are unmistakeable, thanks to their beautiful coiled shapes. These sea creatures were close relatives of today’s octopuses and squids but lived inside a shell, which they enlarged with new chambers as they grew, forming a spiral. They lived throughout the seas and swam by squirting water, the hollow inner chambers of their shells… Read More »